Upright vacuums have been around since the vacuum cleaner was invented. We probably all remember our parents or grandparents owning a heavy-duty Hoover vacuum cleaner. Bulky but reliable, these upright vacuums were built to last. As technology has improved, upright vacuum cleaners have increased in the suction power and versatility.
Over the past decade or so, consumers have come to demand a vacuum cleaner with more convenience and less weight. Enter the stick vacuum, a lighter version of the traditional upright vacuum. With the improvements in cyclonic technology, nowadays stick vacuum owners can have convenience without necessarily losing out on suction power.
The stick vacuum is lightweight and versatile. The upright vacuum is powerful and longstanding.
So which model is best for you? Both upright vacuums and stick vacuums are fantastic options, but which one you should buy is based on several criteria.
We’ll evaluate the distinguishing factors and help you decide whether to buy a stick vacuum or upright vacuum.
Perhaps the most obvious place to start in examining the differences in sticks vs uprights is with suction power. And, the differences aren’t as obvious as you might think.
Upright vacuums are built to maximize suction power. Generally speaking, dollar for dollar, an upright vacuum is going to have more suction power than a stick vacuum. However, that is not universal, and there are several things to examine.
For starters, there are many stick vacuums on the market that have a tremendous amount of suction power. They take advantage of all of the things that distinguish stick vacuums: lightweight and ultra convenient. A stick vacuum with high suction power is truly the complete package, and they cost a lot of money.
That is why we say that upright vacuums have more suction power than stick vacuums dollar for dollar. For the same spend, you will generally see upright vacuums having more suction power than an equivalently priced stick vacuum.
Again – don’t read this the wrong way – you can find stick vacuums that have a bunch of suction power too. They will just come with a hefty price tag. If you are looking for the full package: a lightweight, versatile vacuum with lots of suction, then we recommend you look at some of the top-end stick vacuums.
On the hand, many of the mid-range upright vacuums will have an equivalent suction power. It will likely be heavier and bulkier than a stick vacuum, but you’ll get lots of power for a decent price.
What situations necessitate high suction power from your vacuum? Let’s go through a few that we’ve seen in our testing:
Thick carpets like shag have long fibers that trap a lot of dust and debris. Over time, this dirt works its way deep into the carpet. Even if you only wait a few days in between vacuuming, chances are your thicker carpet and rugs already have dirt worked down into the base of the fibers.
Because of it’s thickness, pulling all this dirt out of thick carpet requires a vacuum with strong suction power. An added necessity is a vacuum with a brush roller, which helps to agitate and “kick” up the dirt and debris.
Pet hair has this pesky and annoying characteristic of being “sticky.” Unlike so many other types of debris, pet hair sticks to whatever it falls on – flooring, carpet, furniture, blinds, etc.
Pet hair requires a vacuum with a strong suction. Without a powerful vacuum cleaner, you might find yourself examining the floor after a clean, only to see the dirt gone but the pet hair still there.
Again, just like with thick carpet, a powerful vacuum combined with a brush roller is the best combination to pick up pet hair.
High foot traffic brings more dirt and debris than lower foot traffic – this much is obvious. However, unless you want to be making several passes every time you vacuum, you need to strong powered vacuum cleaner to be able to handle the high amount of debris.
If you live in a home that has a lot of inhabitants, or an area that gets a high amount of foot traffic, you’ll want a vacuum with strong suction power. This will keep you from having to vacuum multiple times every time you need to clean.
Lets look at the next factor to consider when selecting between an upright vacuum vs a stick vacuum.
Weight might not be the first factor you look at when examining a vacuum cleaner, but it can be a very important one. Heavier vacuums are harder to maneuver and harder on your body. They are tough to move around, and even worse to carry up and down stairs.
Meanwhile, a lightweight vacuum makes your cleaning significantly easier. You’ll find vacuuming easier, and you’ll be more likely to get the vacuum out more frequently. Trust us, we’ve seen this play out over and over again in our own lives!
Vacuums today can weigh as little as 4 pounds and range all the way up to 20 pounds and above.
Obviously, there can be compromises with lighter weight vacuums. Typically, they don’t have as powerful of a motor, resulting in a lower suction. They also don’t usually have as large of storage bags for the debris you collect, meaning you’ll have to empty your vacuum more frequently.
The upsides of a lightweight vacuum are obvious: less weight to have to push and pull around your house as you go over varied surfaces and up and down staircases. A lightweight vacuum lets you get the job done faster and easier.
Stick vacuums are almost always lighter in weight when compared to an equivalent upright vacuum. Most stick vacuums weigh under 10 pounds, while you’ll find upright vacuums can weigh anywhere between 8-25 pounds. These are averages, of course, but it helps to understand the generalities.
In our opinion, you should try to find the lightest weight vacuum you can that has the suction power you need. Where you will be using the vacuum has a tremendous influence on the weight you’ll end up with.
Need a vacuum for your whole house, which includes hardwood floor and thick carpets? You might not end up with a lightweight vacuum, unless you want to spend a lot. Just want a vacuum for your downstairs closet to touch up heavy traffic areas at the end of the day? In this case, a lightweight stick vacuum should suit you great.
Prior to the last 10-20 years, it was unheard of to have a cordless vacuum cleaner. Vacuums required a tremendous amount of power to suck up debris, and it just wasn’t possible to do that with something battery powered. Nowadays, technology has made cordless vacuums quite qualified to do the job.
Like buying a lightweight vacuum, a vacuum with no cord makes your life a lot more convenient. It sounds a bit trivial, but not having to deal with messy cords makes vacuuming so much easier. Simply dashing to the closet and pulling a charged, cordless vacuum out makes cleaning a piece of cake.
Because it is so much easier, you’ll actually find yourself vacuuming more. This results in a cleaner home. No kidding.
It would be easy to assume that cordless vacuums don’t have as much power as their corded counterparts. And, while this can be the case, we don’t see a very strong correlation. Cordless vacuums can come with tons of power or very little power, depending on what you need.
With all this being said, the top vacuum that is corded will bring a lot of convenience, but for a much lower price that it’s cordless vacuum counterparts.
There are many things to consider when evaluating between corded and cordless options, and then you have to translate that over to stick vacuums vs upright vacuums. We’re going to do our best to simplify it here:
One of the greatest limiting factors for cordless vacuums actually comes down to battery life. All cordless vacuums run on battery power. And, these batteries only last so long. Depending on the specific vacuum and the power settings you are using, batteries can last as little as 8 minutes and as long as 40+ minutes.
If you’re planning on vacuuming your entire house with a cordless vacuum, you need to be very careful about which one you select. While the most expensive cordless vacuum cleaners can last 40-50 minutes, most mid-priced cordless vacuums last 20-25 minutes. And, this is without the high power mode engaged (if your model has that option).
20-25 minutes might not be enough for your home, depending on its size and type of flooring. You can opt to vacuum in two sittings, but this means you’ll have to wait for the battery to charge, which can take anywhere from 4-9 hours.
As you’d expect, thicker carpets use up more battery, as they involve more suction and the use of the brush roller. Low pile carpet and hardwood flooring typically uses less battery power.
If your home has lots of thick carpet, no matter what the size, pay close attention to the specific cordless vacuum that you buy. You want to make sure it can do an adequate job, and that you’ll have enough battery power to handle your home.
Cleaning thinner carpet like berber is a lot easier on your vacuum.
Some cordless vacuum cleaners come with removable batteries, allowing you to purchase more than one. This can be a great way to overcome a large home or thicker carpet, the two biggest culprits of reducing battery life.
If, in the end, you can’t find a cordless vacuum that satisfies your specific scenario, you might be better off with a corded vacuum cleaner. While not as convenient, you’ll never have to worry about running out of battery power, or forgetting to charge the cordless unit.
With a corded vacuum, you can go straight from hardwood floor to thick carpet without worrying about battery life. Flick the brush roller on and leave it on for as long as you like. Go over the carpet several times – you don’t have to worry about how much battery power you have left.
Speaking of the cordless vs corded vacuum cleaner debate, determining what you need out of your vacuum is a great step to determining which type is best.
The more you need out of your vacuum, the more versatile you’ll need your vacuum to be. Whether a stick vacuum or upright vacuum, you’ll want to determine what specifics you require first.
A lot of this has already been discussed above, but its worth a quick review here. Vacuums expand their versatility through their suction power and attachments.
Here are the top situations where you need a versatile vacuum. After, we’ll talk about whether an upright or stick vacuum is best suited for each.
If you live in a home that is all hardwood flooring, you don’t need a very versatile vacuum to clean hard surfaces.
On the other hand, if you have hardwood or engineered flooring in some parts of your house, along with carpet, you might to consider otherwise. Additionally, carpets come in all different types. There are low pile carpet and areas rugs, which are distinctly different than thick burber or shag carpet to vacuum.
Upright vacuums are heavier and less convenient, but they’ll be able to handle a large variety of floor surfaces a little better than a stick vacuum. A top end Shark stick vacuum will be able to keep up with all of your floor types though.
What you don’t want to buy is a less expensive stick vacuum if you have a variety of floor surfaces. This will definitely let you down.
As we said earlier, the thicker the carpet, the higher the need for a brush roller. You can find brush rollers in a variety of stick and upright vacuums.
Stick vacuums are made for convenience, so the more additional cleaning needs you’ll require from your vacuum, the more likely you’ll want to opt for a stick vacuum.
Many stick vacuums are what they call “2-in-1” or even “3-in-1.” This means that you get several types of vacuum cleaner in one. Often, a 2-in-1 vacuum cleaner will be both a stick vacuum and a handheld vacuum, for example.
This is really convenient if you need to use your vacuum for additional cleaning needs, such as cleaning your car. Simply pop off the handheld portion and you’re off to the races.
The same can be said for your stairs, your blinds, and under your furniture. Stick vacuums tend to come with more versatility built in, and so chances are you’ll want to stick with a stick vacuum (pun intended). When it comes to finding a reliable stair cleaning vacuum, make sure you consider the weight of it, since you will be moving it up and down the stairs!
On the other hand, if you just need a workhorse to keep your carpets clean, you probably don’t need all the additional cleaning needs that come with a stick vacuum, and would do just fine sticking with an upright vacuum.
Both pets and children create additional cleaning requirements. And, in order to handle those, you’ll either need to buy additional cleaning products and appliances, or make sure that your standard vacuum can handle them.
This one is a little trickier to give advice on which way to go when it comes to a stick vacuum vs upright vacuum.
On one hand, upright vacuums typically have stronger suction power (dollar for dollar), and thus do a better job picking up dog hair and the messes a child can create– that’s right, your need for dusting those pesky hairs away might just be alleviated.
On the other hand, a stick vacuum often comes with specific attachments to handle these situations, which makes them very optimal.
In the end, when you have pets or children (or both), you’ll need to take a more holistic approach in evaluating which is best for you. If we had to pick, we’d opt for the versatility of a stick vacuum over the stronger power of an upright vacuum. But there are merits for either a stick vacuum vs upright vacuum in this case.
Perhaps we’ve saved the most important factor for last. Cost is always a huge factor in what you purchase, as it should be. And, when it comes to evaluating an upright vacuum vs stick vacuum models, there is a huge variety of costs.
Its worth mentioning that we have already evaluated the relative cost of a stick vacuum vs upright vacuum when it comes to suction power. Upright vacuums will be cheaper when suction power is compared right up against an equivalent stick vacuum model. That doesn’t tell very much of the story, though.
Generally speaking, both stick vacuums and upright vacuums can cost as little as $25 and range all the way above $500. That is a huge spread, so lets look at it a little more specifically.
At under $50, you’re getting a bare bone vacuum cleaner. That isn’t necessarily bad! But don’t expect any of the extras when you’re in this price range.
We’ve reviewed the best vacuum under $50!
The best stick vacuum for under $50 will do an adequate job on hardwood floors and low pile carpets. They will be a corded stick vacuum – you don’t start seeing cordless stick vacuum models until the $100 price range.
You might see a 2-in-1 model or two in here, but generally speaking, these stick vacuums won’t have a lot of versatility. If you have pets, you’ll need something more powerful (and expensive).
The best upright vacuum for under $50 will have a little more power than it’s stick counterpart, and might be able to handle some mid-thickness carpets. Look for a brush roller if you can, as not many sub-$50 models have them.
Just like the stick vacuum, an upright vacuum for under $50 won’t do an adequate job on pet hair. If you have dog hair or cat hair to vacuum up, you’ll need to look at a more expensive model.
Technology has improved enough that its worth considering a vacuum under $50, and you’ll get a decent cleaner. Don’t expect much more than the essentials, and you’ll be happy.
Once you start getting into that $100 price range, you start to see some expansive options and stronger power. You can do really well purchasing a $100 vacuum. As an example, our recommendation for the best stick vacuum comes in right around $100.
We’ve reviewed the best vacuum under $100!
The best stick vacuum for under $100 is going to come with a lot more power. You’ll have enough suction power to handle low and medium pile carpet. Many models come with a brush roller, allowing you to suck up a lot more dirt and debris.
You’ll also find a number of models with cordless options, featuring battery run times of roughly 20 minutes. These options won’t have the long run times of 40 minutes like the more expensive options, nor will they charge under 4 hours. But being able to buy a cordless stick vacuum for under $100 is pretty amazing.
You’ll also have several attachments, suitable for pets, stairs, and upholstery.
The best upright vacuum under $100 is going to have good suction power, and will be very adept at handling a variety of floor surfaces. They’ll still be pretty heavy usually ranging between 10-20 lbs.
At this price point, you can find a versatile vacuum that will do an adequate job. None of the conveniences are well developed or robust, but they’ll give you a taste of the convenience you can have at the higher price points.
In our opinion, this price range is the sweet spot. At $200, you will find some amazing vacuum cleaners with a multitude of options and attachments. Once you start going above $200, you start seeing diminishing returns on your money.
We’ve reviewed the best vacuum under $200!
The best stick vacuum for under $200 will give you adequate suction power for virtually all surfaces. Perhaps still not optimal for thick carpets, they’ll still be able to help out quite a bit.
You can go for either corded or cordless, and have good selections for either. At this price point, we would vote cordless unless you have some thick carpets. Then, a corded stick vacuum should have enough power to get you through it.
You’ll have loads of attachments to help you tackle dog, cat, and pet hair. You’ll be able to convert your stick into a handheld vacuum for stairs and car cleaning.
The best upright vacuum for under $200 will have enough power to handle any and all circumstances. Mind you – not ALL upright vacuums in this price range can, but there are several well-designed ones that do an amazing job on even the thickest of carpets.
You’ll also start see upright vacuums that are designed more ergonomically to reduce the weight on your hand, arm, and back.
In our opinion, purchasing a vacuum in the $200 price range is the best choice. Whether a stick vacuum or an upright vacuum, you’ll get a high quality brand name vacuum that can handle virtually every situation.
This is a pretty wide price range, as we’ve reviewed vacuums that are $600-$700. With that being said, once you get above $200, the advantages start to get similar.
That isn’t to say that vacuums in this price range aren’t amazing – they are. The first time you use a vacuum in this range, you’ll probably be shocked at how far technology has come.
These vacuums combine powerful suction with lightweight and ergonomic designs. They are incredibly versatile, able to handle every floor situation. Corded options have long cords that maximize their power usage. Cordless options last for 40+ minutes and recharge in 3-4 hours.
We actually find that upright vacuums in this price range act more like commercial vacuums, able to handle a lot of debris and dirt over time.
If you have the budget, these vacuums are amazing appliances. Whether a stick vacuum or upright vacuum, you’ll get all the bells and whistles. If you have a high traffic home or pets that shed heavily, this type of vacuum may well be worth the investment.
We’ll go through six situations that we’ve identified as the perfect fit for a stick vacuum.
College students living in a dormitory do not need a large, heavy upright or canister vacuum to keep their space clean. These vacuum cleaners typically have a lot of suction power, but that suction goes unused in such a lightly trafficked area like a dorm room.
A stick vacuum doesn’t always have quite as much suction as an upright, but more than enough for the thin, low pile carpet that is found in a dorm room. Usually dorms only have a few people living in them, and don’t need the high suction power that high trafficked areas need.
Stick vacuums are small and easier to store, which is essential in a dorm room where storage space is at a premium.
Very similar to a dorm room, a small apartment or condo unit is the perfect candidate for a stick vacuum.
Apartment units are not typically large, usually coming in under 1,000 – 1,500 square feet. A cordless stick vacuum can handle a space this size on a single charge. There is so much convenience in quickly grabbing a stick vacuum out of a closet and being able to vacuum your entire space in one sitting.
Like dormitory units, apartments and condos do not usually have thick carpet. Rather, an apartment is generally made up of a combination of laminate flooring and thin carpet. Today’s stick vacuums do a fantastic job on both of these surfaces.
Tiny Homes are dramatically increasing in popularity. As property and rental prices skyrocket, and urban land reaches a premium, a growing number of people are opting to go with a tiny home.
Kent Griswold and the team over at TinyHouseBlog do a wonderful job reviewing tiny homes from top to bottom, discussing construction types and energy ideas.
Generally speaking, a tiny home is a space that is under 500 square feet. As such, space is at quite the premium. Having a vacuum cleaner that is small and very easy to store is really important.
As we get older in life, vacuuming becomes a larger inconvenience. Heavy, bulky cleaners make vacuuming significantly more difficult.
Today’s stick vacuums are lightweight, without sacrificing much in the way of power and suction. The lightest weight stick vacuum that we recommend, the Bissel 3 in 1, comes in at less than 4 lbs!
This combination of low weight with decent suction provides an amazing alternative for the elderly, instead of a traditional upright vacuum cleaner. Stick vacuums are also easy to maneuver, making them a great option for tight corners and hard-to-reach spaces.
Look for a great corded option, which will allow you to have a decent amount of suction power while still being really lightweight.
For many, a stick vacuum does not make sense as a primary vacuum cleaner, but can make a great addition as a second household vacuum.
If you have a large home with a lot of people, chances are you need a larger upright vacuum or canister vacuum to keep up with all the dirt and debris that gets dragged into the house. While there are some good stick vacuums for this scenario, they are very expensive.
However, in these situations, adding a stick vacuum to use only in heavily trafficked areas is a great option. Put a stick vacuum in a downstairs closet, near the kitchen and living room. You can whip it out at the end of the day for a quick clean.
This serves several purposes. For starters, by cleaning more frequently, you will dramatically cut down on the amount of dirt and debris that makes its way through the house and settles in.
Additionally, with a convenient option like a stick vacuum, you’ll be much more likely to get it out, thus allowing you to keep your house cleaner. Stick vacuum owners consistently talk about how much easier it is to keep their house clean, because it is so much simpler.
Today, people are busier than ever. If we’re honest, its only getting harder to find the time to keep up with keeping the house clean. And, vacuuming frequently often times tops that list.
The problem with business is that the longer you go without cleaning your home, the more difficult it gets. Let it slip for a week or two, and you might have a pretty lengthy chore ahead of you. Keeping up on your clean home helps make the task a lot easier.
For busy people, a stick vacuum makes vacuuming far more convenient. Even further, a good cordless stick vac gives you the added convenience of never having to deal with a cord.
If you take stock of your business, you might find that a stick vacuum will be the perfect solution for keeping your house clean.
It’s impossible to objectively say which is better when considering a stick vacuum vs upright vacuum. Both stick vacuums and upright vacuums are great options, depending on your specific needs.
Generally speaking, stick vacuums are going to be lighter weight and easier to use. They come with a variety of cordless options, and are highly versatile, allowing you to adapt the stick to a handheld or car vacuum.
Upright vacuums are incredibly powerful and come with high suction. Since their focus is typically on this one area, they aren’t as versatile, but also aren’t as costly.
Whatever you choose, enjoy the advances that technology has afforded vacuum cleaners in recent years. This isn’t your grandparent’s Hoover any longer!
Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.